Football Trouble

There has been plenty of controversy in the NFL lately. One of the biggest stories has been about Adrian Peterson, of the Minnesota Vikings, who was arrested for child abuse. He is accused of hitting his 4 year old multiple times with a switch.
The public outcry has been immense. The Vikings were going to let him play while awaiting trial, but they got so much grief, that he is now likely out for the season. He was the MVP in 2012 and the Vikings very best player. He will still be paid his salary. This story comes on the heels of Ray Rice being accused of spousal abuse. Apparently football is violent both on and off the field.
But the big question for me is what do I say to my sons, particularly the one who has 2 Adrian Peterson jerseys, a poster on his wall and for the other who asked, “Should I burn my Adrian jersey?”
There is no excuse for what he did. Adrian says that is how he was punished by his dad as a kid. And even though it might be true that 30 years ago, hitting a kid with a switch would not have been considered child abuse, his son is 4 years old, and he left bruises. That is not OK.
So that is the first thing I tell my sons. That what Adrian Peterson did was not ok.
But I find myself confronted with some things as I wrestle with this. One is how much we love to accuse and prosecute and we rarely seek to rehabilitate. That boy is Adrian’s son and will be for life. I have heard Adrian is getting help. I hope that is true. I hope that we don’t focus so much on prosecution that we forget about rehabilitation. It is a problem all over our criminal justice system.
Another thing I’m confronted with is the violent nature of football. The first time I went to a professional football game, I was struck by how much I felt like I was watching the gladiators in the Coliseum of Ancient Rome. The harder the hit the better and the louder we cheer. It is fun. I love it, but I am also convicted of my part in encouraging the violence.
And this also convicts me about how much we worship athletes in our culture. Starting at a young age, if you are really a good athlete, you tend to get away with things. I sometimes remind myself that most of the men who play professional sports have been told they were the best their whole lives. They have dated who they wanted, gotten away with not doing much in school, been told they were above the law. This certainly isn’t true for all of them, but these stories remind me of how true it is for many.
My kids all love sports. And my husband and I do too. We value how they teach teamwork and hard work and many other things. But sports are not God. They are not the most important thing. And I don’t care how good a football player you are, that does not excuse you being a jerk or committing a crime.
In Romans 12, Paul tells us that we should not be conformed to the ways of the world, but rather be transformed by God. Another way we say this sometimes is that we are to be in the world but not of the world. So as I think about this issue, I have to confront how much sports rules in this world and in our lives. I don’t want to teach my kids that sports are more important than they are. I need help them to keep sports in their proper place.
Sports are enjoyable entertainment. But athletes are not heroes. They are not above reproach. They are humans and they make mistakes. So I can talk to my kids about forgiveness and about being accountable when you sin/break the law/hurt another person. Everyone needs to be accountable. And that tends to be magnified when you are in the public eye.
So I guess in the end, my sons and I are just so sad about the whole situation. That poor little boy. That poor man who grew up being hit by his own dad and learned that that was ok. We have prayed for them all. And I suppose that is a good lesson.
I do know that I am feeling more on guard. I need to keep sports in their proper place—they are entertaining, but not the most important thing. They are not, in fact, even close to the most important thing. And when sports take away from the most important things, like time with God and family, then that is a problem.
But I will continue to pray for Adrian and all athletes. Because there are lots of young boys [and girls] who think they are pretty cool. So I will pray that they realize this with humility and that when they need help, they will get it.

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